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New Left Review I/189, September-October 1991


Ronald Suny

Incomplete Revolution: National Movements and the Collapse of the Soviet Empire

Early in September, less than a month after the abortive coup in Moscow, Soviet ethnographers gathered in Bishkek (formerly Frunze), the capital of the newly independent Kyrgiz republic, for their annual national conference. Confronted by the radically transformed political situation in what was repeatedly referred to as ‘the former Soviet Union’, those professionals who had engaged for decades in the study of the ‘national question’ were forced to deal with the unravelling of the very policies and state structures they had long defended. From the opening plenary session in the marbled hall of the local Lenin museum, through the meetings of the ‘sections’, held in Kyrgiz elementary school in a village on Lake Issyk-Kul, the discussions reminded one more of a parliament than of a scholarly convention. The immediate impression was that 4,000 kilometres from Moscow the spectre of the Soviet Union still haunted the halls, even as the first tentative steps toward independence were being taken.

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